When was the last time you looked for a town or village in an atlas and couldnâ€™t find it? I do it more times than Iâ€™d like, but there can be any number of reasons. First, I could have misspelled the name of the place. Second, I could be looking in an atlas for the wrong location (county, province, shire, etc.). Third, the location may not exist any longer, or it may exist under another name!
I spent a long time trying to locate the place in North Carolina from which my grandmother posted a letter in 1901. It was maddening! There was no such place, as far as I could tell EVER! Finally, I located a United States Post Office microfilm from NARA and found that there really was such a place as Shiva, North Carolina; it was a freight office/post office in a country store in Iredell County.
My hometown is listed on page 1,089 in Lippincottâ€™s Gazetteer of the World, 1913, a new database at Ancestry.com. It states:
â€œMadison, a banking-post village of Rockingham Co., N.C., on the Dan River, at the mouth of the Mayo, about 36 miles WSW. of Danville, Va., on the Southern and Western Rs. [Railroads] Pop. in 1900: 813.â€
You can still find that town in contemporary atlases and gazetteers.
However, were you to search a current map for Shoofly, Iowa, you wouldnâ€™t find it. However, Lippincottâ€™s Gazetteer lists it on page 1700 as a â€œpost-station of Johnson Co., Iowa, about 20 miles W. of Muscatine.â€ And Leaksville, N.C., appears on page 1,005 as another â€œbanking-post village in Rockingham Co., N.C., on the Dan River, 25 miles SW. of Danville, Va., on the Danville and Western R. It has tobacco factories, etc. Pop. in 1900: 688.â€ (Leaksville and its sister towns of Spray and Draper merged in the 1960s to form the current municipality of Eden.)
As you can see, there is a substantial amount of information included in a gazetteer. I use gazetteers in conjunction with both historical and contemporary maps in several ways.
1. The most obvious use is to find a location mentioned in ancestral records. Not only can you locate the place name, but you can determine the county, province, or other geopolitical jurisdiction at a certain period in time. Sometimes you will have to refer to maps and/or gazetteers of earlier or subsequent periods to fine-tune the date of a change. You can also search the Web and/or you can refer to the excellent reference book, Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources. The sheer number of boundary and name changes throughout history makes your study of geography and mastery of geopolitical research essential.
2. You can get a distinct feel for what the location was like at a specific point in time. Where was it located? What was its population at a certain time? What type of place was it? (Banking and post references, in this gazetteer, indicate that it was a local financial center and sustained a post office of some sort. Sometimes the major industry or agricultural crop(s) are listed.) What transportation links were there? Railroads, river transportation, or some other mode?
3. Be sure to read the introduction or preface to all the maps and gazetteers you use. They will often set the stage for the content, the pronunciations, the currency of the information, the inclusion or omission of certain data, and abbreviations. â€œLippincottâ€™s Gazetteerâ€ contains all of these items and more. In fact, the appendices include â€œA Conspectus of the Thirteenth Census.â€ This includes data from the 1910 census, as well as comparative information with the 1900 census.) While this is, indeed, a world gazetteer, these appendices focus on the United States. The publisher, J.B. Lippincott Company, was based in Philadelphia and London; the book is copyrighted in 1905 and in 1911. The reason for this is that the original version of the book was published in 1905, but the gazetteer was so successful that another edition, containing the 1910 U.S. census data, was compiled and published.
Make a point of locating a good gazetteer such as this one, become familiar with how to use it, and then come back to it often. I personally own printed, hardbound gazetteers of the U.S., the United Kingdom and Ireland, Canada, and Germany. I refer to them constantly, and my personal research would be lacking without them.
There are many more gazetteers available at Ancestry as well. A search of the Card Catalog for the keyword â€œgazetteerâ€ results in 130 hits. However, the addition of Lippincottâ€™s Gazetteer of the World, 1913, is now a new, centralized, online favorite database for me. Iâ€™ve already spent hours browsing through its digitized page images. You will too!
Listen to The Genealogy Guys PodcastÂ each week for fun, entertaining, and informative genealogy discussions. George’s new book, The Official Guide to Ancestry.com, is now available from his company’s website, Aha!
Seminars, Inc. and is personally autographed by the author.